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Sports exploits of the amazing Steadman children.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

GM Panthers Finish Arctic Ice Tourney Unbeaten -- Win Championship -- Claim Trophy

Dateline: December 29, 2009, Orland Park Arctic Ice Holiday Tournament.  Sunday evening, December 27, the GM Panthers finished off the play-in portion of the tournament with a 6-3 victory over the Arctic Ice Leafs.  They had a well-deserved day off, then prepared for the tournament championship game with a well-deserved day off.

Tuesday was the big day: a re-match against the Panthers' toughest opponent yet, the Arctic Ice Blackhawks.  "We had beaten them on Sunday morning, so we knew they would be pissed off," said defenseman Sarah Steadman.  "It was sure to be a good test."  As it turned out, it was a true classic.

Steadman was supported by a huge crowd of family and friends, including "uncle" Ken Kennedy and "uncle"  Matt Hertko.  The other Panthers all had their own cheering section, too.  "Those damn Panther parents are obnoxious," this reporter overheard more than once.  And he didn't care a bit.

As the two teams arrived at the rink for the final skate, the trophies were already displayed.  "Wow, a first place trophy and a second place trophy, so we get a trophy no matter what!" said a teammate.  "We don't want no second place trophy," shot back Steadman.  "Second place is for the first losers.  We only want the big one."

Coach Tony Bertuca fielded the same line he has used to start most of his recent wins: Gio Gulino at center with Mike Sliwsinski and Frankie Bertuca up front; Steadman and Maggie VanErmen on defense with goalie regular Sebastian Hanulik between the pipes.  The game started where Sunday's match left off, with plenty of hard play, tight defense, and a few slashes by the Blackhawks against Panther legs when the referees were conveniently looking away.  Then, two minutes into the first period, the Hawks scored on a nice breakaway to make it 1-0 and put the Panthers down for only the second time in the tournament.  "The scored first in our prior game too," said Steadman.  "They are tough. They come out and punch you right in the nose, and you have to respond."

The Panthers Mike Sliwinski retaliated just as the first period expired, with 22 seconds on the clock. Gio Gulino made a nice break, splitting Blackhawk defenders, then dished the puck to Sliwsinski who hammered it into the back of the net.  Panthers 1, Blackhawks 1.

The  Panthers got their first of three powerplays early in the second, when the Hawks were called for slashing at 7:07 to go.  They failed to convert, but Sliwsinski scored shortly thereafter and CJ Kruger added another off the second line and so by 5:20 in the second period the Panthers led 3-1.  But the Hawks responded, scoring two quick goals at 1:48 and 1:27 in the second to even the score at 3.

The fourth period descended into a slug match, with plenty of shoving and tough play.  Both goalies made spectacular shops, Hanulik especially making timely saves and dropping on the puck to stop Hawk breakaways.  Kruger scored again with 4:30 to play, and the Panthers looked to be in good shape but the Hawks responded marvelously scoring less than a minute later to knot it at 4 each.  "What happens in overtime?" asked Uncle Matt Hertko.  "Sudden Death!" Screamed Steadman's father.  "But we want to win it in regulation."  Coach Bertuca wanted to win it in regulation too, screaming at his players and yelling specific instructions. 

Then Bertuca loaded his front line, moving Sammy Holy to forward with Gulino and Sliwinski with Steadman and VanErmen on defense.  "That's his best five," was the comment overheard in the stands.  "Can't miss."  The line failed to score, but the strategy worked perfectly as the tired out the Hawks.  The next line held the score, and then Gulino found the net again on his next shift, scoring with just 3:18 to play. 

The crowd was at this point at fever pitch, but the Panthers dug in, refusing to allow another score.  The Hawks shot again and again, desperately trying to get back in the game, and even fouled with just 20 seconds left, but to no avail.  The horn sounded ending the game, Panthers 5, Hawks 4. 

A massive celebration ensued, Coach Bertuca stage-managing the official ceremony and then the Panthers managed an unoffiical ceremony immediately thereafter.

The Hawks now ride a 9-game streak back into regular season play, facing the Leafs on Saturday at the Leaf Center in West Dundee.

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